In the late ’60s, I had the blessed opportunity to travel to Japan with my mom and brother Bong. The only thing I remember was a lunch of delicious steak cooked over volcanic rocks. I never forgot that meal. Kimpura was the only Japanese restaurant I knew about. I loved their food and it was always a treat to dine there. To me, though, Japan was way too expensive and the only opportunity I’d get to go was an invite by some friend on an official trip.
This is where I believe my God who knows my heart comes into the picture. A few years ago, some Japanese government representatives came over to the Philippines with the desire to promote unknown places of Japan in the country. Guess who they assign to do this dream job? My food show Foodprints.
I went around the southern part of Japan namely Fukuoka, Hiroshima, and Osaka and just ate and ate and ate at the most delicious restaurants of Japan. There was no special category of dining place, except it had to be delicious! Tell me if that job isn’t a blessing from above. When the show aired on the Metro Channel, many of my viewers came to me telling me they wanted to dine in the places I featured. So, another angel sent by my Father from above sends JTB (Japan Travel Bureau) to me with the question, “Would you like to lead our culinary tours?” Each group I bring is different so I practically go to the same places every time. Every dining place is delicious. But that standard does not satisfy me. It has to be perfect.
Then the pandemic decided to land on the world. My last tour was in Hokkaido in December 2019. It was 14 degrees below zero but we still had an outstanding food trip adventure.
Our first meal was at a place called Ramen Alley, a 10 minute walk from our hotel. There are about 14 different stalls in the alley, but the one I recommend is called Ichikura.
This year, the Japanese government allowed tour groups to enter Japan. So, on the evening of July 11, a bunch of us traveled from Manila to Tokyo. We had a stopover and finally landed at the Chitose airport in Hokkaido early in the morning. I introduced myself to the group and assured them we were going to have fun. Usually, the group, not really knowing each other, is a bit shy to socialize. But come the next day, you’d think they’ve been friends for decades. This is what happens when foodies get together. The last group was different. On our first bus ride from the airport, there was boisterous laughter already and the group gelled immediately.
I proposed to check in, relax, and catch up on sleep and meet at the lobby at 1 p.m. Our first meal was at a place called Ramen Alley, a 10-minute walk from our hotel. There are about 14 different stalls in the alley, but the one I recommend is called Ichikura. The only Michelin star-rated ramen place, it specializes in scallop ramen. With a little dab of Japanese pepper on the piping hot broth, all those who tried it couldn’t talk, just giving me the thumbs up.
That evening, we headed to a place called Tonkatsu Aoki. Here, the Tonkatsu is humongous. Almost everyone could not finish the tonkatsu. I blame one of the participants. She kept on telling me, “chef, ang payat mo.” That was my license to prove her wrong. At the end of the trip, I succeeded. Now, I have to diet. The tonkatsu was crispy, soft, with some strips of tender fat in the middle, and simply delicious. Here, they suggest you use black salt instead of Bulldog sauce. It makes sense, since you taste the superior pork better. You know how delicious and pure white Japanese rice is. This place matches the tonkatsu with superior white and sticky Japanese rice.
What a perfect first day! And we had five more days to go. For breakfast the next day, I just had Hokkaido milk with an egg sandwich from Family Mart. Perfection!
Today, I no longer wish having good food from Japan. I experience not only good but exceptional food—and often. Thank you, Lord!